Gus G. has been a known quantity among guitarists for years, but when Ozzy Osbourne pulled him from relative obscurity in Greece back in 2009, he became something of a household name overnight. This transformation opened the door for millions of new fans to discover his band Firewind, which was formed nearly two decades ago. Gus G. took the Firewind name from the title of a 1981 album by guitar God, Uli Jon Roth (Scorpions, Electric Sun). After releasing back to back solo albums in 2014 and 2015, Gus worked with Dennis Ward (Pink Cream 69, Unisonic) to create Firewind’s first concept record with the band’s eighth studio album, Immortals. The album is a series of thematic snapshots of the Battles of Thermopylae and Salamis from the 480 B.C. Persian invasions of Greece popularized in the film 300. This week, Metalholic caught up with Gus G. to chat about Immortals and to take a look back at the 15th anniversary of Firewind’s debut album, Between Heaven and Hell.
Firewind opted to do its first concept record on a topic close to your heart and your heritage. How did the idea to do this all come about?
“It’s been an idea that we’ve been discussing for a long time. Doing something that’s is sort of a tribute to our heritage and where we come from. A lot of fans have even been telling us, ‘You guys are Greek, you should do something about Greek history.’ So, it’s always been in the back of our heads, but in order to do a project like that you need to have the right kind of music and the right mindset, and the timing needs to be right. We didn’t really know how to do a concept album. Now, basically taking our time to write this, collecting ideas for a few years, and working with a co-producer who helped co-write this, I think it was just the right time to put such a project into motion.”
As you just alluded to, you reached out to Dennis Ward to help on this album. If memory serves, you two almost put together your own project in a similar vein just before you got the Ozzy gig.
“Correct. That was the idea, because we had some of those songs laying around. Not finished of course, just like rough ideas that I wrote. I reached out to Dennis, and said ‘Maybe we should finish up those ideas, cause they’re still really good, and they sound like they could be on a Firewind record, and maybe now is the time to do this—to talk about ancient Greek history.’ So all the pieces of the puzzle sort of fell together and it made sense.”
How did you approach the songwriting differently for this record, if at all, knowing there was a specific story to tell?
“First of all, the whole idea was to not really hold back this time. We didn’t necessarily go for ‘Oh, what’s the hit single? What’s the follow-up single?’ We didn’t think in terms of that. We just said ‘Let’s just make a kick-ass power metal record. Let’s make it really epic. Let’s make it grand. Let’s have great arrangements, big sounds; more solos than ever before, more wailing on the vocals than ever before. Let’s just do everything, more. That was the whole idea.”
“Yeah, we definitely didn’t cut back on the cheese, for sure. I read sometimes people saying, ‘Wow, that’s so cheesy.’ In case you didn’t get it, that’s what it’s supposed to be [laughs]. It’s not like we’re suddenly going to try and be a classic metal band or have the biggest message out there about saving the world or whatever. We’re not going to try and be those guys. Firewind is a power metal band. It’s always been that, and maybe the biggest mistake of our career was trying to deny that a few years ago. I would say we embrace it now.”
Vocalist Henning Basse makes his recording debut for the band. What does he bring to the Firewind sound in your mind?
“I think Henning is one of the best power metal vocalists of our generation. He toured with us 10 years ago, and we were all surprised that he still hadn’t been picked up by some other band. When I hired him to do my solo tour, he was still looking for a band. He was like, ‘Dude, I really wanna join a band. That’s where my heart is. I want to be part of a band. That’s what I want.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, we’re still looking for a singer…’ So he brought that new energy that we really needed.”
You can check out the full interview with Gus below and watch the video for the singles “Hands of Time” and “Ode to Leonidis” as well.